Film Critic Devika Girish Shares Her Perspective on the Profession.
Devika Girish has been busy since she took part in Talent Press 2019. She is the Co-Deputy Editor of Film Comment magazine published by Film at Lincoln Center, and a Contributing Editor for Field Notes, Field of Vision’s nonfiction journal. Her criticism appears regularly in the New York Times, Reverse Shot and Sight and Sound among others. In addition, if that isn't enough, she is a Talks Programmer at the New York Film Festival and served on the selection committee for this year’s Berlin Critics’ Week. Somewhere in between she found the time to catch up with Henry Salfner to share her perspectives on the profession and the advantages of print media.
What is your favourite medium to work in and why?
I enjoy podcasts, talks and the like, but there’s nothing quite as arduous, and therefore rewarding and meaningful, as written criticism. Writing, in particular for something as tangible and permanent as a print magazine, enforces a level of consideration, rigor, and thoughtfulness that’s hard to find in another medium. It also ensures that your writing has a life and existence that’s not at the whim of internet servers and corporations.
What advantages do you see in "non-traditional" formats such as podcasts or video essays?
I love podcasts for a few different reasons. They're collaborative and reciprocative in a way that written criticism rarely tends to be. The sum of a podcast is always greater than the contributions of its participants, so there's a thrill in exchanging ideas in a forum and reaching a larger understanding together. Also, it's often an opportunity to bring your audience into your process of working through ideas about a film. You can think out loud on a podcast, and use it as a space for live "rough drafts," or criticism-in-progress—which sometimes is a truer form of criticism than polished and declarative texts. Also, my experience in radio journalism has made me value accessibility and conversationality in criticism to the benefit of my writing.
Video-essays are also potent and interesting formats, though I must admit that I haven't dabbled too much in that area yet. Personally, I find it fascinating and generative to respond to a visual and image-based medium with just words. The ekphrasis involved is a big part of the pleasure of criticism for me.
What are the most interesting developments in film criticism in recent years for you medium and content wise?
The space for independent film criticism has shrunk rapidly in recent years, but it's been heartening to see a lot of journals and grassroots initiatives popping up all over the world, like Svllywood, Another Gaze, SUNU journal, Non-Fiction Journal, Fireflies, to name just a few. Many of these are labours of love that purposefully buck institutionalised and corporatised frameworks of film culture and create spaces for feminist, anti-colonial, and just plain GOOD writing, untainted by trends and profit-motives. I hope to see more such spaces grow and encourage everyone to support them.
Where do you position the critic (yourself) in relation to the film, the filmmaker(s) and the audience?
I firmly believe in the idea of the critic as a historian. It might sound a bit grandiose, but for me, criticism is the act of contributing to the record of our times. So I see my responsibility to the film, the filmmaker, and the audience as threefold. Firstly, I believe that the critic's job—and raison d'etre–is to contextualize the work at hand. That's what separates a critic from any other viewer; the ability and knowledge to place a film within larger historical, political, cultural, and material contexts. Secondly, I believe that it's important for a critic to not just write about the film as if it were in a vacuum but to write about one's encounter with the film. This involves candidly clarifying one's position as a critic (instead of claiming a "neutral," authoritative voice as we're often taught to) and taking into account the contingencies that shape our responses to a film in a specific moment in time. Lastly, my desire is always to use my pen and platform to uplift the works that I believe should be seen, understood and memorialised. That's what makes criticism worth it!